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Located in the village of Chichée, just to the southeast of Chablis proper, the Picq family has tended to its small parcels of vines for several generations. Brothers Didier and Pascal quickly established themselves as rigorous growers after taking over this 32-acre domaine from their father, Gilbert, who retired in 1976. Pascal is in charge of the vineyards for the family, while Didier mans the cellar and makes the wine.

The Picq style of Chablis is classic, with the unique expression of minerality that the chardonnay only picks up in these rolling hillside vineyards of the Yonne Valley, coupled with a racy acidity and depth that comes with low yields, meticulous winemaking and fine parcels of vines. Picq is careful to keep yields as low as possible each year, pruning back severely each winter and routinely crop-thinning on two occasions each summer. Starting in 2006, they have converted to 100% natural yeasts for all of their cuvées. All of the Picq Chablis bottlings are fermented and raised in stainless steel tanks to protect the wines’ underlying expressions of terroir.

Domaine Gilbert Picq et Ses Fils offers up a pair of premier crus, both located in the village of Chichée. These include the Vaucoupin (an underrated premier cru in Chablis) and a more powerful, but equally soil-driven premier cru of Vosgros, which is produced from the family’s oldest premier cru vines.

Situated in the commune of Chichée, Vaucoupin is a highly regarded premier cru on the right bank (east side) of the river Serein (all seven of Chablis’ grand crus are on the right bank). The Picq parcel is in the steepest section of the vineyard, on a forty-five degree slope and must be completely tended by hand, including at the all important harvesting time. It is a beautifully situated premier cru, which produces a wine with a lovely chalky, oyster shell base of soil, and notes of spring flowers and beeswax augmenting the lovely tart citrus core of fruit.

Generally speaking, the right bank premier crus usually produce bigger and more powerful wines whereas the left bank produces wines with more of an emphasis on elegance and finesse,” according to Burghound’s Allen Meadows. The 2008 Gilbert Picq Vaucoupin is excellent. Citrus with some honey and buttered popcorn on the nose. Solid minerality, orchard fruit, some tropical notes, oyster shell and oregano on the palate. Full, fleshy and long.

My friend Tim contends that if you couldn’t produce a good Chablis in 2008 that you shouldn’t be in the wine making business. While that might be true, this wine bears more than just the marks of a good vintage. 12.5% alcohol. Imported by Polaner Selections.

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There have been a number of regions/wines in the last few years that have grabbed my attention. The Rhône valley,  Muscadet, Beaujolais and Spain all have been on the short list in the last few years. A couple of years ago I had my first wine from the Jura wine. People will call them nerd wines, claim they are not accessible and an acquired taste. There may be some truth to that, but they are also some of the most distinctive, memorable and intriguing wines available.

After a number of recent Riesling tastings, I decided to offer up a Jura tasting to the group. Last week, we got together at Palena  and my friend Tim and I pulled together a list of wines that included the following:

N.V. Hubert Clavelin Crémant du Jura Brut
2007 Domaine de l’Aigle a Deux Tetes Côtes du Jura En Quattre Vis Vieilles Vigne
2007 Domaine de l’Aigle a Deux Tetes Côtes du Jura Vieilles Vignes en Griffez
2008 Emmanuel Houillon Arbois Pupillin Maison Pierre Overnoy Chardonnay
1993 Emmanuel Houillon Poulsard Arbois Pupillin Maison Pierre Overnoy
2007 Jacques Puffeney Trousseau Arbois Les Berangères
2009 Domaine Ganevat Côtes du Jura Plein Sud
2007 Philippe Bornard Arbois Pupillin L’Ivresse de Noé

The Ganevat seemed to pull the most votes for wine of the night, although the Puffeney and the ’08 Houillon were also outstanding. The nose on the ’93 Houillon is not something I will soon forget — New Jersey turnpike, burning tires, some brett and flatus (eau de ewwww)….it burned off a bit as the night went on. It might not sound appealing,  but I was rather fond of it.  In the glass it looked like a cloudy mix of rose and iced tea. The nose and the appearance led me to believe that it would be tired (if not dead) and not too pleasant, but it was very vibrant and showed quite well.

The nose on the L’Ivresse de Noé was all about fresh apples — really a thing of beauty. I also really liked the wines from L’Aigle a Deux Tetes. I preferred the En Griffez over the En Quatre — it’s had a bit more weight and richness — and might be mistaken for a white Burgundy, though you would be hard pressed to find as good of a white Burgundy for $23.

All of the wines made for a very interesting tasting. There were many wines that were considered — and those that were overlooked may soon have their chance as I am thinking we need to do a Jura night at least a couple of times a year so that people can get their nerd on. Palena was a great pairing as well, love their menu — roast chicken is a great paring for Jura wines, and the roast chicken at Palena might be the best I have had. Jura wines are great food wines. They tend to have good acidity and can be a bit austere, they want (and at times need) food to be enjoyed. In my opinion, they also tend to be some of the best wines to pair with cheese.

It didn’t take long for me to open another bottle of Jura. Last night I opened a Montbourgeau Côtes du Jura, very interesting Poulsard — could not say if it was a red wine or a rosé, but it was really delicious — strawberry and watermelon jolly rancher (tart red fruit that just makes you salivate), really juicy and very accessible.

I can’t say I have completely taken to some of the oxidized whites from Jura, but maybe it is a taste I will acquire. Regardless, these are some of the greatest wines and they deserve a place in your heart and cellar.

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Domaine Gramenon is one of the most respected producers in the Rhône. In his book on the wines of the Rhône valley, Robert Parker classified Gramenon in the same category as Beaucastel and Fonsalette.

In 1998, owner Phillipe Laurent nearly doubled the area of his vineyards by purchasing some 50 acres in Vinsobres. A year later, he died in a tragic accident and his wife decided to sell some 35 acres the Perrin brothers at Beaucastel.

Michelle Aubery-Laurent and her son Maxim-François continue to make wines in a pretty natural way, with sulphur dioxide used just at assemblage. Their vineyards are farmed organically, and they never filter or fine their wines.

Their wines are not very well-known in the United States as they are available on a limited basis, though it seems they are starting to get more attention.  Someone familiar with their wines from years ago recently told me they made some rather odd wines. He had not had any of their wines in a number of years. I poured him some of the 2008s from Domaine Gramenon and he seemed to like them and say these were not the wines that he remembered. I originally found Gramenon’s wines through Kermit Lynch’s newsletter. He described them as a pure expression of biodynamically farmed, old vine fruit with knock-out flavors tempered by a core of strong minerality. My first vintage of the Sierra du Sud was the 2007. I think I paid $28-32 a bottle. The 2009 can be found for about $22 a bottle.

The Sierra du Sud is 100% Syrah, half aged for seven months in old oak. Like the 2007, it is very deep, dark inky ruby in color, with bright aromatics of red and dark fruit and some earth and bubble gum. It explodes in your mouth with black currant, plum and more bubble gum. This is even more approachable than the 2007, perhaps just a bit more ripe as well. The 2008s had a bit of funk and a little more going on — which is not to say I didn’t like the 2008s, as I do consider myself to be pro-funk when it comes to wine. The 2009 might be a bit less complex — just pure, unadulterated fruit — definitely in the quaffable and fun category. 13.5% alcohol. Imported by Kermit Lynch.

More wines from Domaine Gramenon:
Domaine Gramenon La Sagesse Côtes du Rhône 2007
Domaine Gramenon Les Laurentides Côtes du Rhône 2007
Domaine Gramenon Côtes du Rhône Blanc Vie on y Est 2008
Domaine Gramenon Ceps Centenaires La Mémé 2000

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Gulfi is a relatively new producer of organic wines — their wines aren’t widely available but worth seeking out. Astor Wines in NY and the Wine Exchange usually have some of their wines in stock.

Gulfi was established in 1996 and current production is about 20,000 cases. It is made from the Sicilian red grape Nero d’Avola. It comes from a limestone-based vineyard around Pachino in the Val di Noto region of Sicily. 8,000 bottles were produced.

This wine still had lots of life and was really showing beautifully. It had softened since I last had it some 4 or 5 years ago. Very approachable and comforting. I thought this was like Barry White in a bottle. It was smooth, soulful and didn’t need anything else to set the mood. I have some 2005s, but think this is the last bottle of the 2000 vintage.

14% alcohol. Imported by Selected Estates of Europe. I also really liked their Carjcanti, a white wine made from Carricante.

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Many have said the 2009 vintage is the best ever for Beaujolais. I’m not going to argue with that having enjoyed just about all of the 09s. Jean-Paul Thévenet and Marcel Lapierre’s wines have been my favorites to date, though each time I have a bottle of Lapierre it seems to distance itself from all others. That said, there are some wines downstairs still to be had — Foillard’s Morgon Cuvée Corcelette Vieille Vigne  and his Morgon Côte du Py, Lapierre’s Morgon Cuvée Marcel and others.

Last night I opened a bottle of the Thibault Liger-Belair Moulin-à-Vent La Roche. The wines from Thévenet and Lapierre show a more feminine side, while this is more masculine. A bit more body and fruit as well as a bit darker, but also focused and soft. I can’t say this appealed to me at the same level as the Thévenet or Lapierre (which isn’t a fair comparison), but it is well made and definitely has a delicious factor. To make it even more impressive, this is the first release since Thibault Liger-Belair bought a piece of property in Beaujolais.

He owns 8 acres in Moulin-à-Vent and the average vine age age is 60 years. He sold-off the grapes in 2008, as Thibault contended it would take more than a year of working with the vines to perform to his desired standard. Thibault is currently transitioning the vineyards to be farmed biodynamically.

The Thibault Liger-Belair domaine is located in Nuits-St.-Georges and has almost 18 acres under vine. The domaine has been in the Liger-Belair family for 250 years, having been passed down through the family for the next 5 generations. In 1982 Xavier Liger-Belair died and the business was sold. That same year Xavier’s son, Vincent Liger-Belair, took over the buildings and restructured the domaine by having three sharecropper winemakers handle the work. Then in 2001, Vincent’s son, Thibault Liger-Belair, took over the vines as the winemaker and created Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair. His wines are imported to the U.S. by Vineyard Brands.

Related posts
Thévenet Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2009
Jean & Agnes Foillard — Morgon Cuvée Corcelette Vieille Vigne 2007
Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2007

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Juan Antonio Ponce heads up this small family run bodega who began bottling their own wines in 2005, after generations of traditional grape-growing that continues today, with the adoption of biodynamic techniques. The Ponce family has 22 hectares of vineyards in the municipality of Iniesta (in the province of Cuenca).

Only traditional methods are used in the winery. The grapes are vinified separately and each wine is made with grapes from a certain block, each representing a different terroir, with its own personality. All Ponce’s grapes are old vine Bobal, averaging 50, but up to 85 yrs old, and are planted at an altitude of 2,300 feet and higher. Bobal is a variety of Vitis Vinifera, native to the Utiel-Requena region in Valencia. Bobal is the third most planted variety in Spain, but most people are probably not familiar with the varietal.

At Bodegas Ponce, they showcase the diversity of soil of each of the various plots, producing wines with different characters, always with reference to the variety Bobal. There are very few, if any other producers working with Bobal in this manner, and in only a few years Bodegas Ponce has managed to create a serious following of their wines around the globe.

Last month, I had a bottle of their La Casilla, from 30-70 year old Bobal vines and aged 9 months in 300,400 and 1,500 liter French oak vats. Aromatics of dark fruits with violets. On the palate, big and bold with generous amounts of ripe dark fruit, graphite, smoke, bubble gum and toast. I was at Terroir Wine Bar in Tribeca a couple of weeks back. I’ll certainly return, not only because they offered La Casilla by the glass. La Casilla is currently on sale at $15  a bottle at Canal’s Bottle Shop (it retails for about $22 a bottle).

This week I opened Ponce’s La Casilla Estrecha, from 72 year old Bobal vines and aged 9 months in 300 liter French Oak vats. It is reminiscent of the La Casilla, but a bit more depth, complexity and polish.

The wines are imported by C&P Wines. Recommended.

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Domaine Gramenon is one of the most respected producers in the Rhône. In his book on the wines of the Rhône valley, Robert Parker classified Gramenon in the same category as Beaucastel and Fonsalette. In 1998, owner Phillipe Laurent nearly doubled the area of his vineyards by purchasing some 50 acres in Vinsobres. A year later, he died in a tragic accident and his wife decided to sell some 35 acres the Perrin brothers at Beaucastel. Michelle Aubery-Laurent and her son Maxim-François continue making wines in a pretty natural way, with sulphur dioxide used just at assemblage. Their vineyards are farmed organically, and they never filter or fine their wines.

Their wines are not very well known in the United States as they are available on a limited basis. I found Gramenon’s wines through Kermit Lynch’s newsletter. He described them as a pure expression of biodynamically farmed, old vine Grenache with knock-out fruit flavors tempered by a core of strong minerality. Some might not want to pay $30 for a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, but I was able to pick up a sampler pack of their wine from Kermit Lynch at 25% off and each one of the wines has been a winner.

Last year I found some older vintages of Domaine Gramenon at MacArthur Beverages in Washington, DC — including a few bottles of their Ceps Centenaires La Mémé from 2000 and 2001. The Centenaires La Mémé is made from 100 year old Grenache vines. It is fermented with stems and aged without any sulfur dioxide additions. Gramenon’s wines are said to show best in their relative youth, so wasn’t sure what to expect from a bottle from the 2000 vintage. Copper plum in color, definitely showing a some age. Still showing some lush and silky fruit on the palate, though not as bright as the younger Gramenon’s I have had. It’s picked up a lot of complexity and has also softened and mellowed. Not sure I would sit on this much longer, but it was a memorable bottle. Add another notch to why this domaine is on my list of favorites.

Related posts:
Domaine Gramenon La Sagesse Côtes du Rhône 2007
Domaine Gramenon Sierra du Sud 2007
Domaine Gramenon La Sagesse Côtes du Rhône 2007
Domaine Gramenon Côtes du Rhône Blanc Vie on y Est 2008
Domaine Gramenon Les Laurentides Côtes du Rhône 2007

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